It’s a real pleasure today to share my review of The Life She Wants by Maggie Christensen, the third book in the Granite Springs series set in a small Australian country town: published on 9th March, it’s now available for kindle (also available free via Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback via Amazon in the UK and US. My thanks to the author for providing my e-copy for review, and apologies that it’s taken me rather longer than it should have to write my review.
Having struggled a tad with my reading recently (don’t worry, I’m back to full speed again now!), I’m falling behind a little with this lovely series – the fourth book, The Life She Finds, is due out on 9th June (available for preorder via Amazon in the UK/US). But there’s no better way to rediscover your enjoyment of reading than to pick up a book by a favourite author – Maggie Christensen most certainly fits into that category – and I raced through this one on a lovely sunny afternoon in the garden when life’s current realities took a back seat for a while.
As I mentioned, this is the third book in the series – I thoroughly enjoyed the two earlier books, The Life She Deserves and The Life She Chooses (links are to my reviews, where you’ll also find buying links). And do you know what – this one was every bit as good…
She’s a strait-laced, inhibited career woman. He’s an aging hippie who acts without thinking. What could they possibly have in common?
Fran Reilly has hidden a secret sorrow for the past thirty years. But turning fifty and losing her mother forces her to re-evaluate her future. Returning to her home in Granite Springs, she’s determined to make changes to her well-ordered life. However there are more changes in store than she could ever have imagined.
When Owen Larsen applies for the position as Head of the new School of Music and Drama at the university in Granite Springs, his only concern is to leave the rat race of Sydney and find a more peaceful existence in the country.
Owen is the exact opposite of everything in Fran’s well-ordered world and reminds her of a past she has been at pains to forget. And Owen’s country idyll isn’t proving to be as peaceful as he imagined.
Can these two opposites find common ground and is there a future for them in Granite Springs?
I very much look forward to my visits to Granite Springs – the university campus, the cafes and shops, the smallholdings in the surrounding countryside are beginning to feel like home, somewhere I feel comfortable and happy. And I now think of some of its residents as my friends too – every book in this lovely series can be read quite happily as a standalone, but I particularly enjoy meeting again characters from earlier books that I feel I now know so well. It’s like spending precious time with friends, and there are few things that are much better – particularly when it’s been impossible real-life friends for a while.
And now I have two new friends in Fran and Owen. If you read The Life She Chooses, you might remember that Fran was Nick’s PA, taking leave of absence to deal with her mother’s death – and on her return, rather than resuming her previous job, she’s assigned to support the incoming professor in the newly built School of Music and Drama (immediately dubbed “the MAD house” by its students). Rather than choosing an internal candidate for the job – which creates quite a stir, and sets up a few nice bits of internal politics and downright skullduggery – they choose Owen, an external candidate keen to start a new life in a rural setting. He might not make the best first impression – but shared morning coffee and croissants soon see Fran relaxing a little, and their relationship slowly starts to build.
I really liked Fran – she’s a little broken, with real sadness in her past, and protects herself and keeps her distance by constructing a hard shell around herself, letting few people in. But shells can crack and shatter, and I liked the way her friendships were slowly built every bit as much as the way the central relationship developed. And I liked Owen too – there’s a lovely warmth and enthusiasm about him, and a gentleness that’s perhaps not at first apparent, well developed in his tentative steps closer to Fran and in his relationship with his troubled daughter. I liked very much the ease with which the author explored both characters, sharing their thoughts, making them very real and multi-faceted, people you grow to really care about.
The setting is so wonderfully drawn – I felt present in every scene, could feel the heat of the sun and breathe the air, as I sat with Owen watching the antics of the herd of goats or enjoyed seeing the lorikeets feed on the spikes of the grevillea. And when there’s a natural disaster that causes a threat to both life and property, that’s incredibly vividly described too, with a real sense of danger that has you on the edge of your seat.
The emotional content is excellent – Fran slowly unbuttoning and unfurling, sometimes struggling with the shadows of her past, Owen’s reactions to every new challenge wholly real and easy to sympathise with. And it’s always good to see the baggage that always accompanies a later life relationship, so easy to identify with, so realistically portrayed.
Character-driven stories do rather depend on the believability and strength of the characters, and there are few writers who do it much better than Maggie Christensen. I loved this one: if you haven’t yet discovered her writing, I’d really recommend you spend some time in Granite Springs. I think you might just like it there as much as I do.
About the author
After a career in education, Maggie Christensen began writing contemporary women’s fiction portraying mature women facing life-changing situations. Her travels inspire her writing, be it her frequent visits to family in Oregon, USA or her home on Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast. Maggie writes of mature heroines coming to terms with changes in their lives and the heroes worthy of them.
From her native Glasgow, Scotland, Maggie was lured by the call ‘Come and teach in the sun’ to Australia, where she worked as a primary school teacher, university lecturer and in educational management. Now living with her husband of thirty years on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, she loves walking on the deserted beach in the early mornings and having coffee by the river on weekends. Her days are spent surrounded by books, either reading or writing them – her idea of heaven!
She continues her love of books as a volunteer with her local library where she selects and delivers books to the housebound. A member of Queensland Writer’s Centre, RWA, ALLi, and a local critique group, Maggie enjoys meeting her readers at book signings and library talks.